Other than thinking about Transylvania and Bram Stoker‘s Dracula, I honestly really had no idea what else is there in Romania. AT FIRST.
But just like any other part of Europe, there’s more to Romania than the stereotypical reference to pop culture and tourist sites — which my featured traveler Sophie made me realize. 😛
As an Atenean with a degree in European Studies, there’s no doubt that Europe has always been special for Sophie. But as someone who’s been privileged to explore the world’s continents (she has been to at least 13 countries!), her love for Europe actually started with a family trip in 2005. “My mom, dad, older sister, and I went on a family adventure to Europe and we got lost together. This was the time I fell in love with the continent because everywhere we went — even if it was just really in France — was filled with stories from history. We went to the Netherlands, too, and toured it. Then we went to Monaco and met up with a family friend who lived there,” Sophie said.
Since then, she has been to and fro Europe several times, but of course even before all that, Sophie was already used to traveling. Her first destinations included local places like Baguio and Palawan, and then the US. Remembering when the travel bug bit her, she cited, “I think I was born with it! My family makes it a point to have at least one travel or summer outing together so that we’re able to spend quality time together without school or work having to bother us. But really, I think I have the biggest travel bug with me because I’m adventurous and I love traveling — even alone — to wherever I can go.”
And that thirst for adventure just got stronger when she joined AIESEC in Ateneo. Sophie admitted, “When I first joined in 2009, my motive really was to travel because the heart of an AIESEC experience is an exchange; not as a student, but for work. So what’s better than going on exchange, traveling, working, and experiencing everything that a traveler does — maybe learn a new language — all in one package? It’s surreal, really.” It was in 2011, though, when she joined Ateneo’s Study Tour to France. She added, “I was taking up European Studies and French was my required language, so it was logical that I went on the trip because it covered 6/18 units of my language course too. We had French classes in the international language school in the morning, then tours around the city in the afternoon as part of the cultural half of the program. Moreover, we had the chance to live with a French family, so we were immersed in pure French culture: eat, drink, talk, live, everything!”
The Travel “Mania”
And then from interacting with the French, she was given the chance to spend one summer with Romanians. Sophie‘s two-month trip to Romania was very interesting and one that she’ll definitely not forget, simply because she went there with a purpose. She remembered, “My main destination when I went to Romania was Arad — which is a small town about 560km away from Bucharest, the capital of Romania. I went there for an AIESEC exchange as an assistant kindergarten teacher. I went alone as I was the only exchange participant going to Arad that time. I was, in fact, the only Filipino in that part of Romania. It was scary at first because I didn’t understand anything but as the days and weeks went by, I was able to learn a few Romanian words and phrases.”
But aside from learning the language, Sophie also made it a point to learn the culture and truly immerse herself in it. She continued, “Because I went a week before their Easter (Orthodox), I was fortunate enough to have been brought to several places around Romania. I went with my boss who owned the kindergarten I was working in because her husband was working in another town and her mother was living in another, so there were so many reasons for us to leave during the Easter holiday/break of the children. I had one week off from work and that’s when I was able to go to Sibiu, Brașov, and Bran.
“Sibiu was where the husband of my boss worked so we visited and of course, just like any other European city, it was breathtaking. The museums that had things dating back from the 2nd and 3rd centuries were beyond amazing to see.
“Then we went to Brașov, the city surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains and where my boss’ family lives. This was the city that gave me the opportunity to visit and enter my first Jewish temple, which is usually not allowed if you’re not really a Jew. Their temple can’t be visited just for tourism purposes, but the person staying and watching over the temple was too kind and therefore gave in to our request of letting me in because I come from 6,000 miles away. We also went on a Panoramic Tâmpa, which brought us up to the highest point of the town — exactly 900m above sea level — where we had the panoramic view of Brașov.
“Then we took a bus to Bran, where the famous Castle of Dracula is located. But in contrast to what many people think of him as someone who’s a vampire, drinks blood, and whatnot, he was actually a real person in the history of Romania: as the most terror ruler and dictator they’ve ever had. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to enter the castle because we didn’t make the cut-off for visitors. So what did we do? We went cheese shopping, instead! I was able to find fresh cheese and cheese that was encased in pig intestines — really strong taste.
“We celebrated the second birthday of my boss’ son in her mom’s home in a provincial town in Făgăraș. I lived the traditional Romanian life by having fresh vegetables coming out of the backyard plantation of the house, the meat coming from the neighbor’s fresh produce, and the milk coming from the cows that produced it — boiled to creamy goodness! My blanket was made out of sheep wool, which my boss’ mother made herself and the coffee in the morning was freshly ground and cooked on the stove. It was an amazing experience and I got a sheep’s wool sweater to bring home!”
And that was just Sophie‘s Easter weekend! After that, she continued to live the Romanian life she was already getting used to, including living with a “host” family. Sophie said, “I had plenty of other weekends to spend, so I spent most of them with my co-teacher Lavinia and her family — who, by the way, adopted me for Sunday lunch and took me out on road trips. We went to the mountains to get fresh water that was being sold by Izvorul Minunilor. We were able to see the spring where their fresh water comes from and the place where they pack and bottle their water to sell in the supermarkets. But what was amazing was we were able to fill 20 gallons of fresh, cold water from their springs for free. The spring is an attraction and is a usual sight seeing place for tourists and ski enthusiasts, especially in the winter months.”
Of course, no travel experience would be complete without gastronomic adventures! So what Romanian cuisine does Sophie recommend? “For the food, there were a lot that opened my mind more to the world. There was mititei, which is ground beef and ground pork and ground lamb altogether and grilled in something like a longganisa in the Philippine context. There was also caşcaval pane, which is traditional Romanian cheese deep-fried and coated in bread crumbs. Another was mămăligă, porridge made out of maize flour; sarmale, ground beef wrapped around steamed cabbage leaves; bryndza, cheese out of sheep’s milk; cozonac, traditional Romanian sweet bread usually prepared for Easter; lángos, deep-fried flat bread filled with either something savory or something sweet. Romanian cuisine was amazing and mouthwatering. And if your host offers you to try something from their culture, always say ‘YES!’ and let your curiosity and taste buds be satisfied.”
More thoughts on traveling, according to Sophie: “It’s an opportunity to expand our horizons and recognize and appreciate our motherland and uniqueness because in all the places I’ve been to, no two people are alike and no country is exactly the same with the other.
“It affects me in a way that it makes me a person who is more open — to experiences, changes, differences, people, ways of thinking and living, etc. Traveling pries open a person in some way that can never be done any other way because once you get to your destination, one will never be able to squeeze out the juiciest part of the place without having to immerse himself.
“It can also be a humbling experience because we think we know a lot about people, places, experiences, or life in general when we’re home. But when we travel, we come to know that the world is much bigger than how we think it really is and that there are so many stories we learn and experiences we encounter.
“Aside from these, because of the Study Tour and the Romanian trip, traveling has now made me cherish and love and appreciate the motherland more because being away from everyone else, not being able to eat native food when you want, doing things on your own (this includes cooking and washing), are difficult and the thought of going and being home at a certain date gives some sense of comfort. I did get homesick and thinking of home always gave me comfort and joy to know that I’d be home soon. When other people also talk about the beauty/grandeur of the Philippines, there’s a sense of pride and appreciation because you can definitely say you’re part of it.”
She said it herself, the travel bug has indeed “bit” her BIG TIME. And with that in mind, what are Sophie‘s other travel plans? Well, she wants to go back to places she’s been to already such as Australia, the US, and yes, Europe! “The whole [European] continent, please. Then I’d want to visit South America. Then after, a tour around Asia and the whole Philippines.”
On that note, here are her tried-and-tested TRAVEL TIPS:
Pack well. “Bring the essentials only because I assure you, you’ll be taking snippets of your destination home and leaving some weight allowance allows you to not pay for overweight luggage.”
Let your feet take you. “No, really, just let it because it’s what’s traveling is all about. Make plans, yes, but when you get lost, relish the experience and savor what’s happening.”
Be open. “To everything. Don’t ever close your mind to anything that’s offered to you because each new experience (food, drink, place, person, shop, etc.) is once in a lifetime. Always think of it that way because it’s the only way to experience the core of your travels.”
Enjoy and relish. “Every moment, every person, every food, every place, every experience, every difficulty, and every journey is a moment that can never be re-created. Events can be relived but never duplicated because where you are at the present is exactly where you need to be, so relish and experience the goodness and joy and wonder and awe of traveling.”
Dream bigger and go farther. “Mulțumesc! Călători mai mult și să fie mai curios [or in English] (Thank you! Travel more and be more curious).”
You can also check out my other featured travelers HERE.